We live in a society of laws. Everybody knows it, and everybody agrees that this is a good thing. Even Ayn Rand, fire-breathing she-dragon of the libertarian right, conceded that government had a small role to play in enforcing laws and contracts. And what are laws? They are codified rules that spell out what is right and wrong in a given situation. If you break the rule, you've done wrong and you should be punished. Laws may not always be correct, but they're always the law.
Rules and laws are also immutable in the face of intention. You may break a law with good intent - say burning down your local community centre after trying to get rid of the rats in the basement - but you're still on hook for arson. Some laws are designed to take intent into account, or are modified by other laws. But if those modifications don't exist, you're out of luck.
Lest you think I'm wasting your time with a rudimentary civics lesson, I'm bringing this up because some people (often but not always employees of the Quebecor owned media outlets) appear to have a little trouble with the basics.
We're in the midst of two significant cases of alleged public rule-breaking: the much ballyhooed 'robocalls' scandal currently spilling blood and ink all over Parliament Hill, and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's violation of conflict of interest legislation. In both, it is clear that something unsavory was done - voter supression in one, and using public office to pursue personal interests in the other. But we don't know how bad it was, or who was responsible. Elections Canada is investigating the robocalls, and an upcoming court case will decide if Ford broke the law. The prudent thing to do is wait for the investigations to conclude, evaluate the results, and apply corrective action as needed. But prudence is not the name of the game in the current political discourse.
Ezra Levant wrote an editorial about the supposed media "manufacturing" of the robocalls scandal. But he doesn't argue that rules weren't broken. He argues that nobody cares except the media, and therefore it's not an issue (he also takes a distasteful shot at 'foreign citizens', but I'll leave that for another day). That's not how rules work. If a political party in Canada perverted the course of democracy, they need to be held to account regardless of how many people show up to protest. That's the nice thing about laws: they work whether we're interested or not, doing the work of good governance even when we can't be bothered.
Another Sun columnist, Michael Coren, goes even further. He suggests that the whole robocalls scandal is actually a conspiracy led by the paranoid right's favorite bogeyman, George Soros. Despite there being not one scrap of evidence to support this claim, he makes the following statement:
What we now know is that the moaning calls were being encouraged and orchestrated, often by radical organizations based in the United States.
No, Michael. We don't know that. You only think that, because Glen Beck said so:
Aside: what the Hell is Glen Beck wearing in that clip? I mean, I know he webcasts from his basement now, but why the pajamas?
Anyway, Coren isn't prepared to wait for the investigation, or even admit that a rule has been broken. His tact is to discredit and inflame, which get no one closer to the truth.
Turning to Rob Ford's latest legal troubles, Sue-Anne Levy writes today that the court case brought against the Mayor is absurd because of who is making the accusations. In her view, it's all a plot by desperate 'Silk Stocking Socialists' and 'lefties', her code words for people who disagree with her. But surpisingly, Levy gives the game away and admits that Ford is at fault:
He should have declared a conflict of interest at the Feb. 7 council meeting and not spoken or voted on whether he had to repay the $3,150 in donations made by lobbyists to his Football Foundation.
She freely admits that Ford broke the law, but that doesn't matter because the accusations were made by her - and the mayor's - political opponents. If this were the basis for jurisprudence in Canada, we'd all be in a lot of trouble. The court case against Ford may well prove spurious and inane, but only on legal merits, not personal preference.
We need to know the truth about the robocalls and Rob Ford's ethics. Nobody likes it when their choice of party or leader is accused of cheating, lying, and breaking the rules. But the only vindication that counts is proof that no wrong-doing occurred. Levant, Coren, and Levy's tactics of deflecting, disparaging and diminishing demonstrate little interest in the rule of law, or even in determining what's right and wrong. It is shallow partisan nonsense, and we should all - no matter our personal politics - demand better from our pundits.